Three officers on the USS Connecticut (SSN 22), a nuclear-powered submarine, were relieved of duty for hitting an uncharted underwater mountain during a mission in the South China Sea last month, the U.S. Navy announced on Thursday.
Vice Adm. Karl Thomas, commander of U.S. Seventh Fleet, relieved Cmdr. Cameron Aljilani as commanding officer, Lt. Cmdr. Patrick Cashin as Executive Officer, and Master Chief Sonar Technician Cory Rodgers as Chief of the Boat, due to “loss of confidence,” the U.S. Navy said in a statement.
“Thomas determined sound judgment, prudent decision-making, and adherence to required procedures in navigation planning, watch team execution, and risk management could have prevented the incident,” the statement read.
The USS Connecticut struck an object on Oct. 2 while submerging in the South China Sea, injuring 11 crew without life-threatening injuries.
The Navy said it would investigate the incident at the time.
“The investigation determined USS Connecticut grounded on an uncharted seamount while operating in international waters in the Indo–Pacific region,” a spokesperson for the Seventh fleet told USNI News.
The Seventh fleet is the largest forward-deployed U.S. fleet, and its area of responsibility includes the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans.
The Navy hasn’t provided any damage information but USNI News reported that the forward section of the submarine was struck, damaging the ballast tanks and forcing the submarine to transit on the surface for a week to Guam.
The Navy announced that USS Connecticut remains in Guam while undergoing damage assessment and will return to Bremerton, Washington for repairs.
The Navy also said Capt. John Witte would assume duties as interim Commanding Officer, Cmdr. Joe Sammur would be the interim Executive Officer, and Command Master Chief Paul Walters would act as interim Chief of the Boat.
On Tuesday, China Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin urged the United States to give a “detailed description of the incident and fully address regional countries’ concern and doubt.”
“The key is to stop deploying military aircraft and warships to harass and provoke others and flex muscles, and to stop harming other countries’ sovereign security, otherwise it will be inviting more, not fewer, similar incidents,” Wang said during the press briefing.